A month or so ago, I shared a “personal treasure” of a frame with photographs of all four of my mother’s brothers in their Army uniforms. At that time, I noted that only one was still alive. That uncle passed away last week.
I’m sure you’ve read the articles over the last 15 years, how the Greatest Generation is slowly disappearing. This hit home for me in coming back to the Florida National Cemetery. The last time I was there, it was for another uncle’s funeral in 1999. They had just expanded the cemetery then, and all of that space is filled now, and they’ve expanded yet again. Cremated remains used to be buried, now there is a columbarium. Wikipedia says there’s been over 97,000 interments, all in the last 24 years. Two other funerals were held at the same time as my uncle’s, probably 10 or more that day.
Even with all the activity, it was peaceful in the cemetery. Frogs accompanied the VFW chaplain’s prayers, and sandhill cranes wandered around in the rain. A perfectly timed drumroll of thunder preceded the playing of “Taps”.
We went back to Bushnell the day after the funeral to pay our respects to other family members and found that my uncle was already buried (likely in the pouring tropical rain) and his name entered into the database. I’ve worked for the government for 26 years, so I was pleasantly surprised by the efficiency. Bushnell has been in the news recently for finding a veteran buried in a cardboard box during routine cemetery maintenance. The man had no family to make arrangements for him, so when the county medical examiner sent his remains to the cemetery in a cardboard box, he was buried in it, back in 2004. Now, eight years later, a local funeral director kindly donated a casket for the deceased, and they had to get permission to accept it. Apparently it literally takes an act of Congress to allow the VA to buy a casket or an urn to hold remains.
Sens. Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), along with the chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Patty Murray (D-WA), and ranking member, Richard Burr (R-NC), are sponsors of a new bill called The Dignified Burial of Veterans Act of 2012. It would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to review its burial standards and would authorize it to purchase caskets or urns for all veterans in our national cemeteries.
Please don’t read this the wrong way, but I hope that means purchasing a casket or urn for those with no family to make the arrangements, not every single veteran. I can take care of my family’s needs without the government, thank you, and I wouldn’t push a “one size fits all” deal on anyone.
Speaking of family, it was obvious that my aunt and cousins were proud of my uncle’s time in service and rightly so. This display had a prominent place, though it took reader Swamp Heathen 1 to identify the blue and white patch as the 4th Service Command.
The folded flag was for my uncle’s oldest son, who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War and passed away in 1995. I did not know that they placed three spent shell casings in the folded flag before it is presented to the family. The dog tags, uniform, and medals are my uncle’s. My uncle fought in the 87th Infantry, including the Battle of the Bulge. It was a good time to share the stories again with the next generation, including wondering out loud if my uncle peed in the Rhine along with Patton. (Consensus was if given the opportunity, yes.) I wish he was still here for me to ask him, but I know he is in a better place and not in any more pain.